Darkest Dungeon 26

Matron Thessia,

I hope this letter finds you well.

I apologize for the delay in writing to you. We spent nearly 3 weeks in the hellish darkness of the warrens, but I have spent the time since our return purging myself of the taint of those tunnels. I have flogged my back raw and performed my Mending thrice a day, and still I can smell the stink and see the horrors of it when I close my eyes. My hand trembles as I put quill to parchment, and I hope that in writing to you of it I may finally shed myself of its weight.

Raziq has still not recovered after the suffering inflicted by his own infernal skills, occult magic cut from the same cloth as that of the cultists, and he has been prone to fits and fatigue ever since. When we were finally tasked with delving into the warrens once more, he was in no state to travel, and Clarke leaped at the opportunity to place his man Cole with the group. I was not pleased that we were to explore the depths with that drunk, though he quickly displayed his martial prowess when we found ourselves set upon immediately upon entering the tunnels. The abominable swine-men fell on us with a newfound strength and ferocity, striking with their crude axes, and it was only through Cole’s mastery of mace and shield we were able to repel the assault. We were fresh from the hamlet yet the attack had left us winded, they had launched themselves at us with such force. This filled me with a deep sense of foreboding of what was yet to come, but there was little else we could do but press onwards into the darkness.

Our previous explorations were well marked upon the tunnel walls, where we had etched our passage into the grime. It was then that Cole revealed Clarke had tasked him with outright destroying the cult, removing their influence from the warrens entirely- a haughty goal, something I knew even then. But Cole was a soldier who had received a command, and thought of nothing else except carrying it out. Morgan had told me of how he had driven the party to near exhaustion within the weald, and he repeated a similar feat within that infernal maze. He pushed us to the end of our strength so as to reach the cult’s territory as quickly as possible. We did, for we approached the first of those repulsive wards in half the time we would have otherwise, though at the cost of leaving so exhausted we could scarcely stand. It was only then that Cole allowed us to take our first rest.

We were grateful for the opportunity and quickly made camp, though our peace did not last for long. We could not have slept for more than one turn of the hourglass when we found ourselves under attack once more by the swine-men. In the confusion we were scattered and disorganized, unable to repel the attack, and Cole ordered us to retreat. The monsters had come from the same direction that we had, and the only escape was through tunnels we had not yet explored. I cannot believe that such a turn of events arose purely out of coincidence; I am certain the cultists engineered the event. Regardless, we fled from those horrors into the unknown tunnels. In the darkness and confusion, it was impossible to know where we may have been amongst those constant twists and turns. I know not how long we ran, but it was some time before we realized that we could no longer hear the sounds of our pursuers and paused to orient ourselves. When our torch was properly lit, we surveyed our surroundings and were confronted with the cult’s depravity.

That effluvial grime that had been encrusted upon the stones of the warrens was absent entirely. In its place grew a large swath of what can only be described as skinless flesh, raw meat dripping with crimson ichor. It had greedily snaked tendrils into the crevices of the stone, seeking to grow outward, and where it was not the stone lay bare. It grew in uneven patches upon the walls, though at first we did not recognize what we beheld. As realization swept through the group, we became frantic to escape, but all for naught. We were entirely lost within that labyrinth of tunnels with no way to mark our passage, and as we moved through them those vile tumors grew larger and larger upon the walls. We wandered endlessly, aimlessly, desperately trying to find our way back, when Cole finally realized the futility of it. He ordered us to set up camp once more with our diminished supplies. In the safety of the hamlet, I shiver at the memory of sleeping under the watch of those fetid growths, but I was unspeakably exhausted and glad for any chance to rest.

We slept unmolested, and continued our trek through the tunnels once we awoke. It was then I detected the undercurrent of that acrid scent beneath the stink of the place. I foolishly decided to bring it to the group’s attention, and Cole realized that Wolfswift’s senses were the sharpest among us. She was able to pick it out like a thread and follow it, leading us through the tunnels like a bloodhound. I suspect that Cole saw this as an opportunity to carry out Clarke’s command, though it seemed to me like insanity. As we traveled, the tumors grew steadily larger upon the walls, until I began to see other aberrations growing inside them. In the flickering torchlight, I glimpsed the faint shapes of swine snouts and pig ears emerging from the growths, and I averted my gaze from the grotesque creations. We moved along the tunnel in silence until we turned a corner were confronted with a sow’s half-formed face pressing out from a tumor, with one mad eye swiveling wildly in its socket as its skeletal jaw struggled against the flesh wrapped around it.

This unnatural sight proved to be too much for the leper. Before we could react, York charged forward with a ghastly scream and began to hack away at the facsimile of a sow. That crimson ichor sprayed over his armor as he shouted crazed commands for his watchers to allow him rest and we rushed forward to calm him. It was too late, however. We heard the sound of approaching enemies and braced ourselves for an attack. The monstrous swine-men showed themselves and Cole rallied us to repel the attack, but York leapt forward like a mad berserker. He attacked the three of them, swinging his sword over his head again and again while driving the monsters back, taking no notice as their cruel axes bit at his skin. He slew one, and then another, but it was as he was bringing his sword back for another strike that the remaining swine-man’s axe found its mark on York’s shoulder and sliced its way through his body.

We stared on in horror as the two halves of York fell to the ground, spilling his innards upon the floor of the tunnels. We were mesmerized by the gory spectacle, but as the remaining swine-man stepped over the bloody pile of York’s remains Cole leapt forward with his shield. He deftly dispatched the creature with his mace and we quickly rushed to what was left of York, though there was nothing we could do. The man had surely died instantly, and I can only pray it was painless for his sake, and mine. With no means with which to bury our fallen companion, Cole ordered him stripped of his supplies and we carried on, following the trail of the scent. As we set out, I asked Cole to consider searching for the exit, but he refused and continued to press onward. York had bloodied and slashed that tumor with the half-face, leaving it unrecognizable – except for the eye. The thing that had driven him mad still remained, and swiveled to stare at us as we marched past.

I apologize for my illegible writing, Matron. I cannot control the shaking of my hands.

We pressed on into the dark of the tunnels, leaving our slain companion behind. The pulsing flesh pressed in on us from all sides as we traveled, still tracing that acrid scent. As we followed it, it became so distinctive that even Cole and I could discern it clearly under the smothering stink of the tunnels. We began to hear a sound from deeper in the sewers, echoing off the stones to reach our ears, though then it was impossible to know what may have made it. As we moved inexorably forward, the tunnels became indescribably humid, only adding to our exhaustion. We took our rest and comfort when we could – Cole in his drink, Wolfswift in her pagan rituals, and myelf in prayer. I tried to pray for York’s soul, Matron, but in truth I could only muster the strength to beg the Goddess for protection from whatever hell we pursued.

As we pushed onward in the tunnels, under the oppressive heat and pulsating tumors, I began to feel the Light of the Goddess fade from my spirit. It is a blasphemous thing to write, Matron, but it is the truth. Deep within the warrens, under those gaping tumors and close to where the cultists conducted their demonic schemes, the Light of the Goddess cannot shine. I realized this began to beg and plead with Cole to flee, to return to the surface, but he would not hear of it. Half-drunk, he merely instructed me to steel myself for the battle ahead. I attempted to seek counsel with Wolfswift, but she was as unnerved as I was, wide eyed and quietly chanting something in her guttural tongue.

We began to identify the sound as a swine-like scream, one that sounded at random intervals. The flesh began to grow so thick that portions of it hung down from the stone like some repulsive fruit, and we had no choice but to hack it away as it impeded our progress. The smell was overpowering then, and we knew we were close. I was afraid, Matron, nearly paralyzed with fear, but Cole never allowed a thought of retreat. He intently pushed us forward, making our way as fast as we could afford, until suddenly and unexpectedly we came upon a door.

The image of that door is still burned into my thoughts. The growths had not touched it- rather, it seemed as if it had been avoided all together. The cult’s sigil had been carved into it, and in the center of the sigil rested another one of those repulsive wards, much larger than any we had seen, and a pile of entrails had been gathered below it. It was too much for me and I was overcome with nausea, vomiting my last meager meal. Cole and Wolfswift both gagged and stumbled from the ward’s effect, but Cole found his strength and swung his massive mace, destroying it and releasing us from its effect. From behind the door, the scream sounded again, and with another mighty swing of the mace, Cole destroyed the door. With the door broken, that scent spilled out, and it was only then that I recognized the stench of singed flesh and hair. Cole stepped through the ruined door with our torch, illuminating the foul prize we had uncovered.

It was a large chamber, and every inch had been infested with those horrific growths and the swine parts cultivated within. The flesh felt spongy under our boots, and there were pools of that crimson fluid that had collected within the pits of the flesh upon the floor. There were three of the robed cultists in the back of the chamber, surely working toward some nefarious goal, but their bodies and the flickering light of the torch made it impossible to see what they may have been doing. Cole shouted and charged towards them, his going slowed by the softness of the floor, when that screaming began again. He paused in his assault while the cultists remained still, their faces and intentions hidden from us.

We surveyed the chamber, attempting to discover where the howling may have come from, when I saw that the growth upon one wall had begun to ooze profusely. One of the half-formed swine faces, much like the one that had driven York mad, was working its jaw and struggling free of its tumorous prison. There was a horrific sound as the flesh tore, freeing the swine’s jaw and allowing the deafening scream to fill the chamber. We paused in place, transfixed with terror at this strange new creature, when there was another sound of ripping flesh as it freed one of its malformed appendages. It was only then we realized what we faced, that the cultists had somehow created this monstrosity of flesh, pig, and blood as it continued to lurch free of its prison. It clawed towards, using its sickening limb to clutch the flesh upon the ground and pull itself closer, tearing more of the tendrils that bound it. There was another scream and we saw another foul, half-formed beast attempting to do the same, and then with a final disgusting rip the first creature tore its bounds and began moving towards us.

Cole called for us to rally and leaped at our first attacker, swinging his mace with all his strength, though to no effect. He hit the creature’s body with a sickening thud, clearly shattering the bones in the appendage, but it seemed not to notice. Cole attempted to remove his mace, but found it was stuck in the soft flesh. He growled and shouted, giving the mace up for lost as he retreated with naught but his shield. He fought valiantly as the two horrors converged on him, using his shield as best he could, but I watched as the man was ripped apart by the beasts and the cultists stood in their place.

I am ashamed to admit that I was paralyzed with fear, Matron, but I was powerless in the face of such blasphemous abnormalities. The Light of the Goddess did not shine in such a place, and there was not I could do. The monstrosities had begun to advance on us, and Wolfswift slashed at one with her glaive. She removed one of its limbs, but that did little to slow the creature’s advance. Seeing no other options, Wolfswift shouted for us to flee. And we did.

We ran from the room and through the tunnels blindly, not knowing where we were but desperate to find our way out of those demonic tunnels. We did not hear the sound of pursuers, but that did not curb our desperation. We ran as fast as our legs could take us, and Wolfswift’s prosthetic limb did not slow her. We ran and wandered for an unknown amount of time, wanting nothing more than to feel fresh air upon our faces. We had been unable to mark our way through the passages; our only method of navigation was following where the growths looked thinner. We did not rest until, by luck or design, we found ourselves finally clear of those repulsive growths. I believed then that surely I would fall dead from exhaustion, but Wolfswift insisted we continue traveling. We were finally treading upon familiar territory, and could follow our markers to the surface. We took a little rest then, but we did not stop for long, both out of fear being caught by the swine-men and wanting nothing more than to finally be free of the tunnels.

Following the markers, we reached the entrance to the warrens. We sprinted through, finally emerging to the surface, but I found myself nearly overwhelmed by the fresh air and sunlight; I had become so accustomed to the stink and darkness of the sewers it was almost painful to be outside. The relief I had expected to feel did not come. I thought would have been joyful at finally escaping. Rather, I found myself immediately reflecting upon the horrors I had just escaped, unable to put them behind me, and it has been as such since my return.

I cannot go back into the warrens. I will gladly face the undead horrors of the ruined manor a hundred times before I return to the hellish and humid darkness of those tunnels. It is too much to ask of me. I still shake and tremble uncontrollably now, reflecting on the things I have witnessed. My courage would surely fail me if I were to stand upon its precipice again, being tasked with facing down those creatures of nightmare. I cannot, and will not. If the cult of blood magic practitioners are only a symptom of what the elder Clarke half pulled into this world, and not the cause, then this estate is beyond saving! The world would be served only if the Goddess’s righteous fire was visited upon it, razing it from existence.

I will remain here if you command it, Matron, but there is little I can do in the face of such evil. I cannot go back into those tunnels.

Sister Catherine